Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Photo A Day [Vacation Edition]

I'm skipping around when it comes to processing my photos so here are a few from my trip with a gap or two in between. In other words, more are to come. I know you can hardly contain your excitement.

Our West Virginia adventure took us from Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown (seen here) to Fayetteville, Oak Hill, Beckley, and Charleston. Finally we've made it to the tail end of our vacation in Berkeley Springs. Most of those are tiny towns in one of the nation's least popular states so you'd be forgiven for never having heard of them before.

Tuesday found us in Beckley where we finally saw the final Harry Potter movie (yes, tears were shed) and we revisited a little bistro we'd enjoyed over four years ago when we were last there.

This is but one example of why I'll probably come home from this vacation ten pounds heavier.

I've never been one to shy away from a challenge, especially when it comes to eating. In this case the challenge took the form of this gigantic piece of rich chocolate peanut butter cake. I suspect it's my mother's post-war upbringing that was in turn instilled in me that makes it impossible for me to throw any food away uneaten. Because my husband's not a fan of chocolate I was on my own here and our plans did not allow for a doggie bag. It was quite a battle but I persevered in the end. :)

On Wednesday we headed to Charleston and poked around the city. Just as I was beginning to fret that none of my pictures from our trip to the state's capitol was worthy of sharing online I discovered that combining a horribly overexposed shot of this downtown building with one of the better shots I took resulted in this funky final product. Looks almost like a sketch, doesn't it?

This last one was taken yesterday here in Berkeley Springs. This is what passes for a mansion in West Virginia and I suspect this one comes with a ghost or two to boot. You gotta watch out for those hillbilly ghosts. They're usually so drunk on moonshine that it only makes them meaner than regular ghosts.

We're heading back home tomorrow so it's back to reality for me then. It was a fun vacation while it lasted.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 329 & 330]

Greetings from my West Virginia vacation. Yesterday saw us pass through Harpers Ferry on the way to Shepherdstown, where we stayed in The Bavarian Inn and noshed on German food. This is the view of the Potomac River from Harpers Ferry.

Before leaving Shepherdstown this morning we stopped in an old cemetery with lots of interesting Civil War history.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 328]

Yet another random self-portrait. I'm off tomorrow for a week-long vacation to the wilds of West Virginia. I'll consider it a good trip if I don't get eaten by cannibalistic hillbillies.

Only joking. No offense to anyone from WV. You know all those jokes you make about Kentucky? Those of us from Virginia make the exact same jokes about WV. No harm intended!

Style Stitches Sew Along: Key Keeper Coin Purse

Whoo hoo! I finally sewed something again! I can't explain my reluctance to hunker down with the sewing machine for the past few months but it was nice that this month's sew along project was a simple one to help me ease my way back in. Even better that I had a friend's birthday coming up and needed something to give her as a gift. Perfect timing.

I'm going to jump right in and start bitching about the pattern. I officially hate the way the book has us sew zippers. HATE. I made five of the Origami Bags and could never get it right. I assumed this was simply due to a lack of skill on my part but after reading others' reviews about their frustrations I plan to give up on this method for good. The ends don't look nearly as neat and tidy as they did in the zippered pouches I made from Noodlehead's free pattern. That pattern uses pretty little tabs on each end of the zipper and I much prefer that method and the finished look. Next time I shall give that a try instead. Bree from My Crafty Crap (hosting the sew along) did that with her coin purse and I think it looks perfect. She's planning to post a tutorial about how to do it once she gets a few other items off of her to-do list. Like, you know, giving birth to her first baby. I guess everyone has her own priorities. :P

Rant over, I have to admit that this is a cute little bag that sews together quickly. I hope to make one for myself since I can always use more pouches to organize the junk that keeps accumulating in my purse. I'm glad I'm back in the saddle again when it comes to sewing because I did miss the process and the satisfaction that comes with creating something.

The best part is the bag is the perfect size for storing those extra eyeballs we all have lying around the house. I'm sure that alone convinces you that you need to make one for yourself.


Friday, July 22, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 327]

I made this little coin purse as a gift for a friend. It's the perfect size for storing those spare eyeballs we all have lying around the house.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 326]

We're in the middle of a heat wave so I lacked the motivation to think of something cool to photograph today. Instead I processed a photo from the vault for your enjoyment. Here I am evaporating in the heat.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 325]

Mmm! Now that's what I call finger lickin' good!

In completely unrelated news, I made a delicious batch of blackberry jam last night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 323 & 324]

Completely random picture. Sorry, it was a busy day with little time for photos so this is what you get. I still think it's a little intriguing.

Even monsters have to do their chores...

Peanut Butter & Jelly Ice Cream

It's always a struggle to clear out enough room in my freezer for the giant ice cream maker bowl but the results are always well worth the effort. This peanut butter and jelly ice cream is no exception.

For some reason I've been craving peanut butter desserts lately so I dug into the archives of bookmarked recipes for this gem. The ice cream is wonderfully creamy and full of peanut butter flavor with the added bonus of sweet jam. It really does taste like all the best parts of a PB&J sandwich. I used some of my favorite raspberry jam from Trader Joe's and this really hit the spot. Yum!

Amusingly, after I'd mixed the ingredients together and set it in the fridge to cool I went out to a specialty ice cream shop and they just so happened to have peanut butter and jelly ice cream on their menu. See? It's not a totally unheard of idea!

Peanut Butter & Jelly Ice Cream
Recipe from Steph's Bite by Bite

2/3 cup sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter (not the natural kind)
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Jam – however much you like and whatever flavor of jam you want

In a large mixing bowl with the paddle attachment (a handheld mixer works fine), mix together the sugar and creamy peanut butter on medium low speed until combined. On low speed, add in the milk. Then add in the heavy whipping cream and vanilla extract and mix to completely combine. Use a whisk to finish mixing the ingredients together.

Pour the mixture in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours or chill overnight (recommended).

Turn your ice cream maker on and pour the mixture into the ice cream maker. Freeze according to your manufacturer’s instructions.

Once the ice cream is done churning, spread a layer of the ice cream in the bottom of a container. Add some jam on top and swirl it. Spread some more ice cream on top. Add more jam and swirl again. Finally spread on the last layer of ice cream.

Cover the ice cream and freeze for a couple of hours or more.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 320-322]

Peanut butter and jelly ice cream. Recipe post coming soon.

Harry Potter-themed Butterbeer cupcakes.

I dragged my husband back to the walking trail we discovered a few weeks ago so we could pick wild blackberries growing along the path. I haven't officially measured our haul but I'd reckon we came home with over three cups of berries. Guess I need to take a crash course on how to make blackberry jam.

Harry Potter Butterbeer Cupcakes

It is truly the end of an era for those of us who (sorta) grew up with the Harry Potter books and films. I've been a fan since the beginning and have so many fond memories of sharing the books and going to see the movies with my friends over the years. While I don't have the patience to put up with the lines and crowds associated with opening night I wanted to do something to commemorate the release of the final Harry Potter film. Also, since I know I'll cry like a baby, especially when my favorite character dies, I prefer to go when there are as few witnesses as possible.

I have a trip to the Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios planned for this November and I have to admit that one of the biggest draws for me is getting to taste some of the delicious treats talked about in the books. Chief among those is Butterbeer, a butterscotch-flavored beverage with a frothy foam on top. But why wait to enjoy one when I can recreate the flavors in my kitchen in the form of butterscotch-filled, buttery cupcakes?

The recipe I found not only uses plenty of butterscotch but also something I never thought I'd buy: artificial butter flavor. Despite my reservations about it I have to say that the cupcakes wouldn't be half as magical without it. The buttery flavor meshes wonderfully with the sweetness and saltiness of the butterscotch to create a smooth, almost creamy flavored cupcake. If that makes any sense. If it doesn't I guess you'll just have to make these yourself to see what I mean.

Since I'm a DIY snob and prefer to make as much from scratch as I can, I swapped out the original recipe's butterscotch filling made by melting butterscotch baking chips and cream and made homemade butterscotch for the first time. I should admit that I've never been a big fan of butterscotch but after making my own I have become a convert. The flavor of real, homemade butterscotch is a thousand times better than the artificial flavor you get in candies and baking chips. And compared to making caramel this was a piece of cake. There is a much greater margin of error so I didn't have to stand over the stove fretting that I would miss the small window of opportunity between undercooked, flavorless caramel and burnt sugar. If you're a novice I'd suggest clicking the link below for the butterscotch recipe for helpful step-by-step photos. Or, if doing the extra work isn't your thing, head to amyBITES to see how you can use butterscotch chips to make the necessary filling.

In case you can't tell from the photos, I have a bit of a fangirl crush on Severus Snape. There's nothing natural, sensible, or healthy about this obsession so the less I say about it the better. Just know that these cupcakes were a wonderful way to say goodbye to a series I grew to love.

Butterbeer Cupcakes
Recipe from amyBITES

2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon butter flavoring
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup cream soda (DO NOT USE DIET)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pans with 18 paper liners. Combine your flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, cream your butter until light and fluffy. Add your sugars and beat until well-combined. Beat in your eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Then beat in your vanilla and butter flavoring.

Alternate adding your buttermilk, cream soda, and dry ingredients in alternating batches beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Fill each cupcake liner 3/4 full then bake for 15 to 17 minutes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean and cake springs back to the touch. Cool in pans on wire racks for ten minutes, then remove from pans and cool cupcakes completely on racks.

Butterscotch Sauce
Recipe from Simply Recipes

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup of tightly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt (you might not use it all)

Butterscotch takes about a half an hour to make, from start to finish.

1) First, before you begin, make sure you have everything ready to go - the cream and the brown sugar next to the pan, measured and waiting. Making butterscotch is a fast process that cannot wait for hunting around for ingredients.

2) In a heavy bottomed stainless steel 2 quart saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat. Just before butter is melted, add all dark brown sugar at once and stir with wooden spoon until sugar is uniformly wet.

3) Stir infrequently until mixture goes from looking grainy to molten lava. Make sure to get into the corners of your pot, and watch closely to notice how the mixture changes. It will take about 3 to 5 minutes.

4) Right before you add the cream, the caramelizing brown sugar will begin to look and feel more like liquid and less like thick wet sand.

5) At this point add all the cream at once and replace your spoon with a whisk. Lower heat a little and whisk cream into mixture. When liquid is uniform, turn heat back to medium and whisk every few minutes for a total of 10 minutes.

6) After liquid has been boiling on the stove for its 10 minutes, turn heat off and let rest for a minute or two before transferring into a heatproof storage vessel. Cool to room temperature.

7) When butterscotch liquid is room temperature, take a small taste. It's important to know what cooked brown sugar and butter tastes like, and what happens when transforming that flat sweetness into real butterscotch flavor. Whisk in half the salt and vanilla extract. Taste again. Add more salt and vanilla extract until the marvelous taste of real butterscotch is achieved.

Butterbeer Frosting
Recipe from amyBITES
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup butterscotch sauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon butter flavoring
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 16-oz. package powdered sugar
Splash of milk or cream (as needed)

Cream butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Add in butterscotch sauce, vanilla, butter flavoring, and salt and mix until well combined. Beat in powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until reaching desired consistency. Add milk or cream by the tablespoon as needed.

Using the cone method fill each cupcake with a dollop of butterscotch sauce. Replace cones and frost cupcakes and top with a drizzle of butterscotch sauce. (I got lazy and didn't want to waste any more or my precious butterscotch sauce so I only drizzled half.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 319]

Just another random self-portrait. Taken while I tried to blind myself with the sun.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 317]

Uh, yeah. Couldn't think of anything else for today so I decided to try something daring. At least I'm wearing clothes so no one will be scarred for life.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Browned Butter Caramel Banana Bread

I'm always on the search for finding ways to use up overripe bananas in a more creative way than plain ol' banana bread. Banana and chocolate? Done it. Banana and peanut butter? Always a winning combination. This weekend I brainstormed and came up with a new combination to try: banana and caramel.

I had so many leftover bananas that I knew I'd have to make a loaf of banana bread based on my favorite recipe from a friend. The recipe uses an overabundance of bananas to create a super moist and flavorful loaf. The secret trick is to leave some of the banana chunks intact for surprise bites of banana goodness. Starting with that as my base I brainstormed ways to incorporate caramel flavor. My first plan was to make some caramel syrup and swirl it into the batter, but that alone didn't seem indulgent enough. Raiding the cupboard I found some Heath milk chocolate toffee bits to mix into the batter. OK, that's a step in the right direction but what's next? Then I remembered how the browned butter chocolate chip cookies I made a few months back had a distinct caramelized flavor thanks to that browned butter so I decided to brown the butter called for in this recipe. A genius idea, if I may say so myself.

The banana bread is definitely a step up from the usual. The caramel flavor is subtle, which makes it all the more fun when you hit a toffee bit or a bit of the caramel swirl and get a real burst of flavor. I'm very happy with what I came up with and even happier that I finally got rid of those nasty-looking bananas on my counter.

Caramel Filling
Recipe adapted from Sprinkle Bakes

1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons heavy cream, at room temperature

1) Melt the sugar over medium heat in a large pot. With a wooden spoon, stir the sugar as it melts and cook until it becomes a deep amber color.

2) Add the butter and salt and stir it in until melted.

3) Pour in the heavy cream (mixture will foam) and whisk until you get a smooth sauce. You may have some lumps but keep stirring until they have melted. Remove from heat and let cool while you make the banana bread.

Banana Bread

1 cup of sugar
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs whisked
1 1/2 cups self rising flour
4-7 whole bananas (overly ripe and mashed up with a few un-mashed chunks left in)
3/4 to 1 cup chocolate-covered toffee bits (optional)

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a loaf pan with butter or spray and lightly flour.

2) Heat butter in skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat.

3) Combine sugar and melted butter in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add vanilla extract and stir.

4) Mix in eggs and stir until thoroughly combined.

5) Add the flour in three additions and the mashed banana in two additions, beginning and ending with flour. Stir until just combined. Fold in optional toffee bits.

6) Pour batter into prepared pan. Drizzle caramel on top and swirl into batter with the tip of a knife. Bake 50-70 minutes. The more bananas you use the longer it will take. Test bread by inserting a butter knife into the center to see if batter sticks. Continue to bake until no batter sticks to knife.

7) Cool completely in pan on rack. Once cool, invert onto rack and serve.

A Photo A Day [Days 314-316]

Went to another car show on Saturday and wanted to try something different than the usual shots I've been taking. This is much more interesting, I think.

Orange cinnamon rolls. Recipe to come soon, I hope.

A friend sent me this lovely "Legalize Frostitution" sticker, perfect for a frosting fiend like me.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 313]

Some say all his legs are hydraulic and that it takes a gallon of Turtle Wax for Mr. Orange to polish his helmet. All we know is he's called the Stig.

I totally stole the idea for this from this awesome series of Stormtrooper photos. Thought it'd be fun to try some with my own toys.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 312]

Nothing thrilling to see here. Just a rainy view of my garden.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 309-311]

Check out Lola's totally inappropriate "Booty Hunter" hat. I've asked her time and again to not wear it when we're out in public together but she refuses to cooperate.

Whenever I'm out of ideas I seem to take pictures of myself or the cats. So here's another of little Bunsen.

Who knew an oil refinery could look so good? I'll be sad when the fun space effects at Picnik aren't offered for free as I'm having so much fun with them. They even make this icky oil refinery near my house look somewhat magical.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 306-308]

I'm still catching up on picture from the long weekend. Hope you all had a great holiday!

My husband and I took an impromptu trip to the beach. Of course, by the time we got there it was starting to get dark so we barely had time for a quick walk on the beach and a few photos. Still, it was nice to dip my toes in the ocean for the first time in a long while.

This is a highly edited photo from the beach using one of Picnik's featured effects. There's no rhyme or reason as to why I chose it other than that I like how it enhanced the original photo.

Went for a walk in a new (to us) area. Despite being assailed by flying bugs who seemed unable to avoid us it was a nice change of pace. Saw lots of Queen Anne's Lace as well as about 15 rabbits during our short walk. It's like they've been breeding like, well, rabbits!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 303-305]

Like a bird on the wire

You'd think from the looks of it that this is a nice, picturesque park overlooking the river and Philadelphia. Unfortunately, because it's located in New Jersey, the scenery is accompanied by a noxious odor of chemicals and pollution spewed into the air by the nearby manufacturing facilities and oil refinery. This poor bird probably doesn't have long to live after breathing in that stuff.

See how classy the area where I live is? Alas, this was not a celebrity death match but a plain old boxing match. For only $20 you could have watched a woman who gave birth to eight kids when she couldn't afford the ones she already had get punched in the face by a local DJ. Needless to say, in the interviews she did with the news she mentioned several times that she's doing it all for the money but refused to say how much she was getting paid.